Interview recap

I had two interviews today – one with a smallish law firm and one with a large, statewide non-profit, quasi-governmental association. Both went really well and I am happy with both my presentation and participation. One of the weird quirks of my personality – I completely freak-out and worry myself into a ball of anxious misery in advance of the appointments, but once I get there, I am composed and completely relaxed, even if I feel like I am totally bombing and challenged by “connecting” with the interview participants. The minute I cross the threshhold into the office, I feel like the decision is out of my hands – they like me or they don’t, I’m the best choice or I’m not. It’s pretty easy to relax and be myself if I release all thoughts of bending them to my will. With that in mind, here’s what happened ….

The Lawyers. The firm consists of 4 partners, 4 associates, 4 paralegals, an accountant, and a part-time intern. Their offices are less than half a mile from my house, but they have been looking for a more spacious office with an eye toward moving in December, so it would go from half mile to about 3 miles from home and near where we do most of our shopping. Both would be amazingly great locations for me.

Their accountant is 82 and has been with them for 16 years, since they started the firm. He is apparently a nice man and a good accountant (retired CPA), but he is grossly behind the times with respect to automation and software. To that end, all their time and billing is done via excel spreadsheets and their general ledger/checkwriting is done via pegboard. Anyone who does accounting is probably shocked to hear such systems are still in use; I know my jaw practically hit the table when they mentioned it this morning.

They are presently seeking somone to get them set-up into the accounting software their CPA uses (I actually did a lot of this when I worked for their CPA, so he has direct knowledge of my experience and work in this area) and the time and billing system my firm uses (another recommendation from me to the CPA for his law and professional services firm clients). In fact, the CPA suggested they contact me at the end of 2013 to discuss how both systems work and answer any specific questions they have about the programs. As someone actually using the programs and not trying to sell them anything, I would be more honest and objective in my assessment of their needs and what features are most important to them. Now that I was actually available and seeking work, they sought me out with an eye toward a contract job to get them set-up and trained on new systems and possibly transitioning into their in-house accounting and operations once their present guy is retired in December. Which is an issue; he does not want to retire and has resisted their efforts to transition. I do not envy them on letting him know about that looming change.

We had a really great conversation. In addition to my obvious skills with the software transition, I am also an operations person and have run a comparable small business. I have vendors and suppliers to handle computer and network server upgrades and enhancements, phone systems and services, office equipment, even office space and moving logistics. These are vendors and suppliers I have used for many used and at different firms, people I have worked with, trust, and recommend without reservation. Being attorneys they handle the legalities of office space and other lease and insurance documents, but I’d be a great resource for getting them moved from their existing space and updating their furnishings and equipment.

Which got me thinking that if worst comes to worst and I end up being self-employed by default, this is another area of expertise to highlight.

The hour they allocated for this interview flew by, and they seemed genuinely sorry they had something else scheduled and could not extend our time. I feel good about the interview – I was competent and professional, because they were speaking my language – and when I got home I composed a nice email thanking them for the time and reiterating my direct experience with their expressed needs. I’ve already heard back from them inviting me to lunch on Friday, so my calendar is filling up.

The quasi-governmental association. This is a statewide organization with a staff of 15. I interviewed for the controller/accounting manager position, which is being vacated by a gentleman who has been there for 8 years and is relocating to another state. I would have a staff of 4 direct reports and have to travel within the state about once or twice a month, overnight trips mostly, but every quarter there is a meeting that last 3-4 days.

This was the longest interview ever, I think. It was about 2 hours, 35 minutes, and I think I met just about everyone in the office at one point or another. The executive director, existing accounting manager, and the HR guy were the primary folks conducting the interview, and again, it was a very comfortable and positive conversation. They had a standard list of questions they asked, and I answered completely and without being too verbose. Most of their questions were related to education, prior experience, leadership style, and handling conflict. Makes me glad I can only be myself in these things, because no one can project the me I might wish I was all the time full-time, forever and ever amen after being offered a job, so why bother trying in the interview? Me being me I am as honest and direct while at the same time diplomatic about what I think, how I feel, how I tend to react. There are some strong personalities in the accounting department, ladies who require a firm hand about who is gives direction and makes decisions and who is the subordinate following those directions. From there that extends to the governing board and membership as well – everyone tends to push, push, push unless clear boundaries are set and enforced. I certainly appreciate their frankness regarding the challenges the successful candidate will face. It’s nothing new for me, but it is also not necessarily something I want to wade back into at this point.

Once the first 75 minutes and their standardized list of questions was concluded, we took a quick break and then I would have my opportunity to ask my questions about the job and the organization. I got some clarification of their mission and goals and what their membership receives from the organization. It was definitely more educational that what they publish on their website. From there I asked about this position’s direct reports and job descriptions, the travel, the amount of interaction, and how the other operational aspects of the firm worked together. We also talked in more detail about benefits, holidays, paid time off, etc. By the time we were all done it was after 6:00. They graciously reimbursed me for my parking fees and we walked out together. I was exhausted.

This job would definitely be a notch up on my resume and insert me directly back into a corporate office and workplace. I would have a lot more interaction with their membership than I am accustomed to with my present job and clients. I would have direct reports that may or may not be a handful to manage. I will definitely have to update my professional business wardrobe. They do offer flexible work schedules, including 4/10 hour days per week and one of those could be a work-from-home opportunity. There is someone else responsible for operational aspects of the office, i.e., supplies, phones, computer networks, etc., and my role with that would be oversight – approving purchases and invoices, tracking costs in the budget, etc.

Overall, I expect a second interview to meet with their governing board members, and I think I am interested in exploring this opportunity further. However, at this point I’m not 100% sure I would want to take on the challenges that come with the position. I would need a lot more autonomy with my direct reports and I am not sure if I want to be that kind of supervisor/boss once more. I have done it before and I can do it again, but I’m just not certain I want to wrangle with a big bag of personnel issues right out the gate.

Onward. Tomorrow I have another interview with another non-profit association. Friday I have a second interview/lunch with the lawyers. I also scored an interview with a local electrical contractor for an in-house accounting position on Monday morning. It’s intriguing, but research indicates their staff do not make a competitive wage. Still, the more interviews I go on the better I can hone my technique and my message. Or so goes my thinking today.

4 thoughts on “Interview recap

  1. Two great interviews!! Sweet! Now for my daily unsolicited advice. On the non-profits – make sure you get a really good look at the financials (I know you will) – I do lots of work and the underlying details of some – especially mid-size ones like this sounds like – can be pretty scary. The law firm sounds like an interesting challenge even if it doesn’t evolve to a full time CFO job. The transition work sounds more challenging and more the fun side of your skill set. I see choices in your future!

    • I love your unsolicited advice! Your comments are always so practical and supportive, and even if you were like “oh no! DON’T DO IT!” i would still appreciate objective perspective.

      I actually know this non-profit pretty well, having spent 7 years working directly for their auditor, which is how I was fast-tracked to interview. This executive director is new to me and in my impression today of the management structure was just okay. There are amazing benefits, generous retirement, and tuition reimbursement if I want to get another degree or acquire additional schooling. It would most definitely be a resume booster and position me for a better launch into bigger firms if I want to head that direction. At 54 I’m not sure I want to go there, yanno? At 54 I’m kind of hoping to find some nice niche where I make a fair wage, have benefits, retirement plan, make a difference, and do not have to work like a workaholic consultant in one of the big CPA firms just to stay ahead of the retention curve.

      The law firm is a professional services environment, and that’s familiar and comfortable for me. But at this moment it just feels like a really good fit for me with really enticing challenges, lawyers work-crazy enough to make the job interesting, yet compassionate and caring enough to keep their antique accountant on staff for 16 years despite his resistance to adapt to changing methods and technology. Their practice is an interesting niche, too, and where they could go crazy and double the firm size they are cautiously expanding every year. I really like that about them. No matter what happens, even if I take another job, I’m hoping they offer me the contract to do the software transition for them. It’s the kind of work I really enjoy.

      • Ahh – you hit the big question – at 54 what do you want to do the next 10 or so years? I’m not sure climbing back into corporate life would be that appealing*. The idea of the law office is appealing from the outside since it seems to give you opportunities to do things you like, avoid some of the more unpleasant stuff and decide what is “next”. Benefits are important – but as a self-employed person you can certainly do more retirement saving in a tax advantaged way. At the non-profit gig would you be able to keep you side jobs too?

        *full disclosure – at 43 i quit a government job I could have kept forever and started my own business with a partner. 2.5 years later – I truly love the independence/flexibility and even the marketing/getting business aspect is less scary than I feared just because I am passionate abut what I do. the opportunity to work with more people that i like and respect is great and financially more rewarding. not to mention i don’t business wearing business wear and commuting every day!

        Like I said – I see choices in your future which is an awesome place to be. Glad this is going well!

  2. Well you already know which one I picked. But its so funny I picture the account having sleeve protectors on, and an eraser with a brush on the end..Oh God I have dated myself haven’t I.
    No matter what you are going to have great choices ahead of you and you have worked so hard for them. It’s funny you have so much faith in others now I am insisting you show that same faith in yourself because we both know you are kickass good at your job. I just wish I was there to go clothes shopping with you when the decision was finally made because I know we would have a blast!!!!! Remember have faith in the Dooney 🙂
    Big hugs and unwavering faith

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